The Mediterranean Diet

Eliana Lakritz MS RD LDN, Clinical Dietitian, Baystate Noble Hospital (WNG file photo)

by Eliana Lakritz MS RD LDN, Clinical Dietitian, Baystate Noble Hospital

One of the healthiest diet patterns around gets its roots from old-fashioned traditions and ways of eating. The Mediterranean diet (MD) is influenced by many centuries of cuisine, especially Italian, Moroccan, Greek, Turkish, and Spanish.

The diet first turned heads as a result of the low incidence of chronic disease and long life expectancy in the populations that made it part of their lifestyle. Since then, a lot of scientific evidence has shown a broad spectrum of health benefits from the MD.

The diet, the foundation of which is mainly plant-based (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds), is considered by many to be the healthy eating “gold standard.” It is important to note that the health benefits of the MD stem from the diet pattern as a whole. This means that adding just one of its components to a typical Western diet, such as just red wine or olive oil, will not yield the same benefits.

The general guidelines of the MD are listed in the box below.

Diet Components

  • Plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, whole grains, legumes
  • Low to moderate amounts of lean proteins such as fish and poultry (favoring fish over poultry) and eggs up to 4 times per week
  • Use of healthy fats, especially olive oil, in place of butter/margarine and other fats/oils
  • Low proportion of saturated fat (less than 8% of calories)
  • Low to moderate amounts of low/non-fat dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk) daily to weekly
  • Limit red meat to 1-2 times per month OR less than 1 lb. per month (preferably lean meat or small portions)
  • Use of fresh/dried herbs and spices in place of salt
  • Moderate amounts of red wine (optional): one glass per day for women and 2 glasses per day for men
  • Moderate exercise such as walking, biking or swimming (regularly)

The MD is rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants. It has been shown to prevent and also control existing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s dementia.

The PREDIMED study, released in 2013, explored the relationship between heart disease and the Mediterranean diet. This clinical trial involved 7,500 people and assigned each into one of three diets: a MD with 4 tbsp olive oil daily, a MD with 1 oz nuts daily, and a low-fat diet.

What they found was that after five years of the Mediterranean-style diets, there was a 30% reduced rate of heart disease and a significantly lower risk of stroke. Data from this study also demonstrated a reduced breast cancer risk as well as a reversal in central obesity and/or high blood sugar in one third of patients with either MD.

One very encouraging study based in Chicago followed 1,000 retired adults to discover the relationship between MD adherence and development of Alzheimer’s dementia. At the end of the 4.5 year duration, participants that followed the MD were 54% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Even modest adherence to the diet was enough to yield significant benefits to prevention of the disease. The results of many other studies strongly support the health benefits of the MD.

When eaten as a whole and in proper proportions, the Mediterranean diet provides a delicious and affordable way to prevent and treat many chronic diseases. Today, we have easy access to all of its components, so it can be brought to you and your family’s table– all without leaving the country.

Sample 1-Day Mediterranean Diet Menu

Breakfast 6 oz plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup red grapes and 1 oz chopped walnuts

1 slice whole wheat toast with 1 tbsp mashed avocado

1 cup coffee or tea

Lunch 2 cups of garden salad topped with ½ cup chickpeas, 1 oz low-fat feta cheese, and dressed with 2 tbsp olive oil and balsamic vinegar

1 whole grain pita

1 medium piece of fruit (such as a peach, apple, pear, orange)

Snack 1 oz nuts OR 2 tbsp hummus with vegetables ( such as cherry tomatoes, celery, carrot)
Dinner 3 oz. salmon topped with minced fresh garlic and served with ½ cup sliced zucchini,  ½ cup steamed broccoli and ½ cup brown rice

1 cup minestrone soup

5 oz. red wine

Dessert ½ cup mixed berry sorbet

If you are interested in learning more about nutrition counseling sessions with a registered dietitian at Baystate Noble Hospital, please call 413-568-2811 ex: 5671 for more information.

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